When the TCU series with Minnesota was announced I was very excited for two reasons, first of all, Minnesota is a storied football program and pretty much exactly the sort of program that I like to see TCU play in the non-conference. Secondly it meant that we were going to get a chance to interact with the good folks at The Daily Gopher, one of the first blogs I joined when I hopped over to SBNation in 2009. Not only are they a good source of information and entertainment, but when I went on my famous My Little Pony comparing binge (the most offseason post to ever offseason) the Daily Gopher was not only there in the comments offering support, they did their own pony post as well. So, ahead of Saturday's game against the Gophers I got in touch with JDMill of The Daily Gopher for the customary information exchange, and my answers to JD's questions will be going up at TDG later today, so check it out! In the mean time, let's get to it.
HawkeyedFrog: Let's start with the question that's on everyone's mind after the announcement that starting quarterback Mitch Leidner sprained his MCL in the win over Middle Tennesee. Whether Leidner hobbles out or a backup takes over what exactly should we expect from Minnesota at quarterback this Saturday?
JDMill: Well, isn't that the $64k question? Nobody is fooling anybody here, the QB position for Minnesota is certainly a big fat question mark. Leidner was used in spot duty in 2013, but played a prominent role when Nelson was injured, and took the bulk of the snaps in the bowl game against Syracuse. The hope heading into the season was that Leidner, now officially QB1 after Phillip Nelson tranferred to Rutgers (subsequently potentially really messing up his life with an assault charge), would step up as a leader and his passing skills, which he allegedly had in spades coming out of high school, would re-emerge.
So far in 2014 he's been less than impressive, but he also hasn't really been asked to throw much (28 attempts, 14 completions through 2 games). In my opinion two things needed to happen in order for Leidner to be effective at QB this year. 1) He needed to be asked to run less and so far he's only run 12 times, so that's reasonable. 2) He didn't need to be asked to throw the ball 30-40 times/game, but he needed to be accurate enough in throwing 15-20 times/game to keep the defense honest. #1 has happened so far, #2 hasn't really happened.
I don't know what to expect. As of writing this the coaches are saying Leidner will probably play but they are getting backup Chris Streveler ready. My guess is that if we were playing Eastern Illinois, instead of TCU, Leidner would be on the bench.
My best guess is that Streveler takes 90% of the snaps, the game plan is super run heavy, and Streveler is asked to throw less than 10 times, of which he completes 5 or less. (Do I sound concerned?)
HawkeyedFrog: Now that that's out of the way let's get to the real heart of the matchup. I've been following the Gophers from a distance for a while, so I'm glad to see that after a dalliance with... whatever it was that Coach Brewster was trying to do at Minnesota, the Gophers went back to the sledgehammering running game that I remember from the Glen Mason days. David Cobb is a bad man it seems, but how do you see him performing in this game against a strong TCU defense?
The thing about David Cobb that continually impresses me is his vision and his patience. The guy waits for the right hole to develop, he hits it, and then he adjusts in space. He's not the most physical back in the world, and he's certainly not the fastest, but he lets things develop and he hits the right lane 90% of the time.
Michigan State had one of the best defenses in the country last year. They gave up Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), Carlos Hyde (OSU) and David Cobb.
I think David Cobb will have a good day against TCU because he's patient and because he's got a strong offensive line in front of him. My fear is that Cobb might be the only thing the offense has going for it.
HawkeyedFrog: The first few weeks of this season the Gophers have built up commanding leads in the first half and attempted to sit on them in the second half (with varying levels of success). Is the Gopher D stout enough where Coach Kill trusts them to hold up while he puts the offense back in the garage at the half, or is this just conservative play gone wrong? How good is the Gopher D this year?
JDMill: Despite losing a couple of guys to NFL rosters, the Gopher defense has the potential to be very good this year. The strength is the secondary. These guys are fairly young, but because of how the roster has played out PB (post-Brewster) a lot of young guys have had to step up on this team, so that secondary has a lot of snaps under its belt.
The Eastern Illinois and Middle Tennessee games were two completely different scenarios.
Against EIU, the Gophers were up 35-0 with under twelve minutes to play in the game and 42-7 with 2 minutes left. EIU's final two TD's were the very definition of garbage time and the second of them required an onside kick when the game was completely out of reach to get the ball back.
MTSU was different. The Gophers were up 28-0 at half and cruising and then in the 2nd half there was a series of strange events. We had DB's getting dehydrated, bad bounces, a punt blocked by one of our blocker's butts, and injuries. MTSU was able to capitalize on these things and put quite a scare into the fanbase, but really the game was never in question.
There's plenty of confidence in this defense from the coaching staff, but we are playing A LOT of true freshmen in the 2-deep, so there are bound to be some growing pains and I HAZ A NERVOUS that TCU is a team that can exploit them.
HawkeyedFrog: Coach Kill is in year 4 in Minnesota, and things are more or less to the way they were in the Mason days- Minnesota should probably expect to make a bowl every year, but aren't really taken seriously as a contender to win the conference. For how long is that okay for Minnesota, and do Gopher fans think that Kill is the guy to take them to the Wisconsin level where they're never the pick to win the conference, but somewhere in the discussion?
JDMill: Short answer: Yes, we believe Kill is the guy.
The question really is where do the expectations go? Look, I wanted Mason out. I started the first Fire Glen Mason blog that existed and I think it was 15 months before he was actually fired. The problem with Mason was two-fold. He didn't recruit defense, and he wasn't afraid to essentially say that Minnesota would never be able to contend with OSU (where Mason played in college). Now look, nobody here is dumb enough to believe that we're going to suddenly grow up and get on par with the Michigans, Ohio States, Nebraskas and PSU's of the B1G. However, you don't want your coach saying it in press conferences.
What I would like to see for the program, what I believe most rational fans would like to see, and where I think Kill can take us is this: 7-8 wins/year in the regular season on average, which would put us in the top half of the West Division every year. Beat even or lesser opponents in bowl games, compete and represent well when facing more elite programs. And every 3-4 years, when the wind blows just right, when we've got a special mix of players, and maybe a couple of other division teams are down, compete for a division championship and even perhaps go to a Conference championship once per decade. More than anything, we want to get this team back to the Rose Bowl.,
HawkeyedFrog: Let's talk general Big Ten for just a minute, as the conference has been much discussed as of late- with adding two out-of-the-blue members in Maryland and Rutgers, and then the presumed big dogs of the conference laying eggs in non-con the past two weeks to send outside perception of the conference down. I read an excellent article on TDG the other day that "The Big Ten sucking isn't Minnesota's problem", but what do you think about the state of the conference right now? Are you happy as long as you're in one of the truly safe conferences in the realignment landscape, or are you more miffed that Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are diluting the product?
JDMill: I absolutely believe Maryland and Rutgers dilute the product. Look, adding Nebraska was an absolute home run. From a geographic, culture and size standpoint, they are B1G in every way. Maryland and Rutgers were a TV viewers grab and I hate it.
The B1G is at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting, and I'm not trying to make that an excuse it's just a fact that we don't have year-round high school football programs and the speed and talent in our backyard that states like Texas and Florida have. But I don't believe that means we can't compete. I think it takes creative coaching and it takes long, sustained building cycles like the one we're seeing at Minnesota.
For me, I'm a B1G fan. Except for Iowa & Wisconsin (sorry, border rivals, hate, hicks, etc), I mostly want the conference to do well. The reality is, I'm no different from anyone else. The conference doing well is only important to me insomuch as it helps my team. If the conference is doing well on a national level and that somehow helps recruiting, so be it. The reality is that Minnesota isn't truly competing against Ohio State for recruits. Jerry Kill is targeting guys who are tough, love the game and who fit his scheme, star ratings and recruiting services be damned.
HawkeyedFrog: Finally we come to mandatory prediction time. What do you think the score is in TCU/Minnesota and how do we get there? What record do you see the Gophers finishing with this season, and (because I love trophies) how many of the Little Brown Jug, Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan's Axe will be residing in a Gopher hole somewhere this season?
JDMill: I hate to say this, but I can't figure out a way my Gophers win this game. I think our defense keeps it close early, but our offense struggles because Gopher cannot live on David Cobb alone. TCU wins 31-20.
I think the Gophers finish with 7 wins this season and they manage to case 2 of the 3 rival trophies in the process. Iowa is struggling to find an identity. Wisconsin looks like they've got some kinks in the armor. Michigan is... um... struggling? If we find a way to put all three trophies in the case at one time this year, I'll gloat on Twitter for a month, then disappear, stop consuming any and all media and move into an RV in the middle of Canada just so I could mumble to myself and the beavers about how I went out on top.
HawkeyedFrog: Our thanks to JDMill, and be sure to check out The Daily Gopher to find out more about all things Minnesota.